Monday, June 26, 2017

When Life Slaps You in the Face—A Beloved Child is Dead

Memorial graphic by Emilie's friend  Hans Hanson.

Ok, you are cruising through life.  Things are fine enough. It has been, on the whole, a lovely early summer.  Blue skies, spreading trees, and the graceful return of day lilies and lightning bugs in the gloaming go a long way toward soothing the soul and lifting the spirit.  Sure, there is tragedy enough in the world.  You are taken aback by it six times a day and draw a momentary anguished breath.  But it is not your tragedy.  Empathy is one thing, but survival requires a certain hardening of the heart lest you be overwhelmed and destroyed.  Besides, a lovely song is playing somewhere.
And then, suddenly, life slaps you in the face.  Random death has called not at your door but has touched those who are in the grand hoop of your life. 
Last Tuesday Emilie Anderson was killed in an automobile accident in Iowa.  She was just 20 years old and vibrant in life, a beloved free spirit.    Emilie was the daughter of my wife Kathy Brady-Murfin’s niece by her sister Cindy Kringstad.  

My niece Sandi Anderson with her children and grand children in 20015;  That's Sandi in front in pink.  Emilie was second from the right in the top row.
She was one of eight children  of our niece Sandi Anderson and her late husband Ross.  It was a close, rollicking family but Ross’s death a couple of years ago after years of serious illness put a strain on relationships.  Sandi and some of her children moved to Illinois and started a new life.  Several of the others stayed in Iowa.  Emilee was one of them.
I didn’t know her, or most of the children very well.  Our daughters Carolynne and Heather grew up with Sandi and her sister Tracy.  Both families lived in Crystal Lake.  But after Sandi married Ross and moved to Colfax, Iowa to start their family, we did not see them often.  We visited  a couple of times before Emilie was even born.  Once in a great while the whole rolling army of them would pack into oversized vans and come to some family event.  I saw them all, Emilie included four summers ago at my wife’s aunt Benita Wilczynski’s funeral dinner.
No matter that I was not personally close to Emilie and chances are she could not have picked me out of a line-up and must have been only dimly aware of who the hell that distant shirt tail relative in the cowboy hat was.

Emilie full of life and wonder.
When I saw her fresh, lovely young face, so open and eager for life staring back at me from my Facebook feed, it was all as real and horrible as if it happened next door and I saw her every day of her life.
But let’s not kid ourselves.  No matter my personal response, I know that it pales beside the gaping hole her sudden absence leaves in the hearts of her mother, siblings, and grandparents.  Her great aunt Kathy is still recovering from her knee replacement surgery and the sudden death of her youngest brother Michael Brady just two weeks ago at the age of only 54.  Life can deal out worse hands than the one I drew.
Visitation will be today at  Coburn Funeral Home in Colfax from 6 to 8 pm.  The funeral will be conducted at the at Hope Assembly of God Church there at 10:30 Tuesday followed by internment at Colfax Cemetery. 
Kathy can’t travel and I can’t get off of work.  Our family will be represented at the funeral and burial by our daughter Maureen Rotter.
As for me, I am at a loss to adequately express my condolences.  Perhaps this will help.  More than 15 years ago I wrote a poem for a girl from my church, then the Congregational Unitarian Church in Woodstock, Illinois.  Like Emilie, she died suddenly and violently.  The verse was included in my 2004 collection We Build Temples in the Heart published by Skinner House.   I don’t think Danielle will mind me lending her poem to Emilie.  It seems perfectly apt.

The crescent Moon plays hide and seek with the winds and the clouds in the morning sky.

The Moon
For Emilie

The Moon, fallen past full,
            rose red, blood red,
            late in the summer sky,
            a mourning moon,
            a keening moon—
                        a beloved child is dead.

In the gray dawn
            the self-same Moon
            shimmers silver
            from the acme of the sky,
            finding a hole in the morning clouds.

The sun will rise
            and burn away those clouds,
            the Moon, bright Moon,
            will fade against the brilliance of the sky.

And in the Moon,
            which waxes and wanes,
            rises  and falls,
            wanders the heavens,
            plays hide and seek
            with the winds and clouds,
            she lives yet—
a changing and ever beloved memory.

            Oh, the Moon!
            “the ever constant  Moon.”

—Patrick Murfin

1 comment:

  1. Patrick, you scared the bejesus out of me. My daughter is friends with a girl named Amelie Anderson, who lives where we used to live in Ohio. This one has MS. I know her too, and her mom and dad. They grew up together and still communicate. I am deeply sorry for your loss. It could just as easily have been mine.